My Life with a Rolling Relic

Posted in Life by Aaron Starnes | Views: 4268

Someone once told me that people who drive older cars are heroic. While that is flattering, it's just not the case. It's more like reckless - althought not in a cool James Dean sort of way, but a stupid, blissfully ignorant of "how bad a wreck would be" sort of way. It's been a year and a half since I bought my old car. I figured it was time to write about the experience.

Driving my 1949 Ford Tudor is like going on a date with an aging celebrity. Think less Hollywood and more local celeb, like a news anchor that got replaced when her face and chest began to sag. Like the celebrity everyone will recognize my Ford as something special. Like the celebrity it will need to be coddled because it requires special attention and will need to be dealt with gingerly.
In 1949 there was an option of a 95 hp inline six or a 100 hp flat V8 from Ford in their passenger cars. Mine ended up with the 100 hp V8. One hundred ponies is a laughable figure for a V8 today but it scoots the car around with enough pep to make it enjoyable for what. It's 3 speed manual shifted from the column. That was 60-odd years ago and judging by the rust holes that perforate every panel from the door handles down the old girl languished for some time in a field or swamp.

It is an involving driving experience though. There is constant correction at the wheel. The original specifications were 1.5 inches of free play at center. Between the column shift and blinker assembly and pedals there's just about always something going on.

It's rusty. It has drum brakes. It's low on power. The rear end has tall gearing which gets it away from a red light at a respectable pace. If you really want to look like a hooligan you can rev it up and let the clutch go it'll lay down one skinny strip of rubber. That's not really the point of this car though.

Out on the town.

The truth about old cars is that they weren't designed to do the sort of things expected from newer automobiles. People have come to expect a level of performance from even the cheapest shit-box that most cars earlier than say 1960 couldn't hope for in stock configuration. If you jump in an old car and expect to drive it the same way you drive your mother's 96 Plymouth Voyager you're going to be a little disappointed. It won't go 200,000 miles on oil changes alone. You can't drive this car at 90mph all day in its stock configuration. Old engines require regular service. But with a little mechanical sympathy you can really enjoy an old car.

My Ford is not fast. It'll do 70 on the interstate but that ancient motor sounds a little too busy for comfort. Plus I've got four ancient drum brakes attached to an ancient one-pot master cylinder. If that isn't petrifying then imagine the non-break away steering column just waiting to skewer the driver in the event of a serious collision. There's also a nice steel unsympathetic dash for your tender body to slam into. Safety is a concern.

I bolted some seat belts in at the behest of my mom and girlfriend. I also keep it off the interstate because cruising speed is about 60 and in this neck of the woods it just isn't fast enough. I wouldn't want to drive behind it. So I satisfy myself with slithering around town and running errands in it. But cruising this thing can't be beat. Roll all the windows down and glide around town and you'll get the giddy sensation of just being the center of attention at every intersection. I love the gas station talks with strangers and the thumbs up or waves of approval I get from other drivers. It makes people happy to see it. I like the stories everyone seems to have about how their dad owned one back in the day or how one just like it was their first car.

Flathead V8
But it's also about connecting with a machine. Like any relationship it takes an investment on my part to get what I need from the car. I understand that It's an old slow car. I don't try to drive it like it's not. I never wish it was faster, or held corners better or had creature comforts like air conditioning.

I like driving it for the reason that it is a relic. I like to wonder how close my experience with the car is to the experience of the first owner, that first guy or gal that slid in behind the steering wheel in 1949. Who was it? WWII was still a recent memory, but this automobile was a symbol of hope. Back then the windshield would have been perfectly clear and all the gadgets would have seemed like current technology instead of quaint. I wonder what it was like when it was shiny and new.

I'm no purist, I have changed plenty on my car and will continue to modify  it as I see fit. I think a concourse restoration would be a bit silly and on this car because there are definitely better persevered cars to start with. Doing something like that here would be a waste of time and money. I love a good hotrod. Snarling V8s and fat rear tires give me goose bumps. I love a little something from every genre but the car I'm most into right now is my old car. I think that's my preferred genre too. Old car. There's something romantic about jumping into something old and gaining an understanding of what previous generations were driving.


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